An integrated approach to global challenges: Springer Nature’s Humanities & Social Sciences Collection

By: Sacha Billett , Tue Apr 30 2019
Sacha Billet

Author: Sacha Billett

STEM research is often credited with finding solutions to many of the world’s most pressing and wide-reaching challenges, while Humanities & Social Sciences can be overlooked when it comes to the role it plays in supporting the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals and its contribution to the multidisciplinary research needed to solve some of the most complex global problems. 

Speaking recently about the significance of Humanities & Social Sciences today, Jennifer Richler, Head of Nature Research Social Sciences Center of Excellence, explained:

“It is becoming increasingly clear that addressing pressing societal challenges like climate change, inequality, poverty, and global health will require integrating scientific and technological development with an understanding of human behaviour and the dynamics of human societies. At the same time, many of the issues that dominate the news like racial and gender discrimination, immigration, voting behaviour, and international relations are fundamentally social science topics. Understanding the complexity of our social systems and institutions, and the behaviour and decisions of individuals operating within them, is vital for making progress toward a safe, inclusive, and just world.”

Jennifer Richler, Head of Nature Research Social Sciences Center of Excellence

Springer Nature has an extensive and fast-growing HSS portfolio spanning eBooks, Springer Journals, Palgrave Journals and Nature Research Journals. Overall, nearly 50% (5,500 titles) of its ebook collection and 650 of its journals (extending to more than 35,000 articles) are dedicated to HSS disciplines, with both the Springer and Palgrave Macmillan imprints having 175 years HSS publishing history in common. The publisher aims to bring wide ranging-subjects under the HSS umbrella together to reflect the latest research in new and emerging areas of interest, but also to drive research momentum in these new areas. Achieving this not only means combining and coordinating research across STEM subjects, social sciences and humanities to develop new solutions to existing problems, it also means embracing and introducing new publishing models to effectively meet the changing needs of academics and practitioners worldwide.

“HSS as a term is useful for us in bringing together our content, but actually, its coverage is incredibly diverse – our challenge as a publisher is to reflect that diversity with the right mix of formats so that we not only meet the research needs of our wide-ranging audience, but that we get the right content into their hands at exactly the right time.” 

David Bull, Vice President HSS Journals, Springer Nature

Formats that connect diverse subjects with a diverse readership

Springer Nature’s Humanities & Social Sciences portfolio spans hundreds of Springer Journals, several Nature Research Journals, and a range of book formats that serve the needs of a wide readership - from undergraduates to academics and practitioners.  

When Nature Climate Change was launched in 2011, it was the first journal in the portfolio to include social sciences in its scope. The journal now boasts a strong body of papers in psychology, economics, sociology, and political science that sit alongside papers in the natural sciences and interdisciplinary studies. With the more recent launches of Nature Plants (2015), Nature Energy (2016) and Nature Sustainability (2018), the family of thematic journals following this multidisciplinary model is growing. Like Nature Climate Change, these journals publish research on social, economic, and policy dimensions, together with papers that describe biological and physical systems. By covering the full scope of relevant research around a topic, Nature Research Journals build connections and broaden interest across the wider community.

Springer’s Social Sciences eBooks program, led by Andreas Beierwaltes, covers a broad spectrum of cultural, political and environmental topics including: terror, migration, Brexit, Trump and climate change. Its aim is to provide foundational knowledge in these areas, adopting a scientific, discursive and at times provocative approach which always adheres to the highest standards of science. The collection combines broad perspectives on these issues and reflects growing interdisciplinary research into areas of global, social significance.

Springer’s Humanities and Social Sciences Journals collection now extends to over 600 titles. Subjects covered range from education, economics, technology and media, to literature, art and history.  

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We recently talked to David Bull, Vice President, Journals, Humanities & Social Sciences, to ask him about how he thinks these disciplines are growing in importance and helping to tackle some of the world’s more complex challenges. We also asked him about new areas of interest that are gathering momentum in the HSS sphere, and how Springer Nature’s editorial and publishing programs are changing and adapting to serve a more diverse audience of researchers and professionals.

What are some of the emerging areas of interest you’re seeing across HSS today?

“Humanities and Social Sciences research today is incredibly rich and fast-evolving. An important aspect of this evolution is a rise in inter-disciplinary and multi-disciplinary collaboration. More and more, we’re seeing the techniques, data and methodologies associated with one discipline adapted and used to further research or solve a problem connected with an entirely different field.  Where I think this becomes potent is in the research around the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and society’s ‘grand challenges’. For example, there’s significant overlap between many of the journals in our HSS portfolio and SDG 8 (of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals), which focuses on sustainable economic growth and work.

 Our portfolio engages with a variety of the SDGs, with significant research being published in areas such as health, inequality, population and migration, and peace and justice.

“The importance of interdisciplinary research across HSS subjects and beyond is fundamental to meeting many of the global challenges we’re facing as a society today.”

The implications of digital and technological advancement – such as how and where new technologies are applied - are also an important focus for our journals portfolio. To solve many of today’s global challenges and future quandaries we’re going to need clever engineering and continually advancing technologies, driven by broad research collaborations in science. But alongside that, we also need to think carefully about the economic, management and policy implications of these technologies as well as the psychology behind them, and their wide-ranging impact on humankind.”

How has the portfolio developed in recent years?

“Our HSS portfolio has grown significantly, even in the few years since we became Springer Nature. We have approximately 600 English language HSS journals and 50 German language titles, published across imprints: Springe,  Palgrave Macmillan, and some BMC (in Health). Our Springer and Palgrave imprints each draw on over 175 years of publishing history and tradition – but represent different approaches to the Humanities & Social Sciences. Springer has evolved from a mathematical and engineering tradition, while Macmillan has more humanistic roots. It’s been wonderful to see our staff, content and ideas come together since the merger, and the publishing significance of this for our HSS list is profound.”

What are the biggest influences on the HSS Journals collection and how important are new journals to your vision?

“We have the third largest global HSS journals portfolio, by title and article numbers. Our titles are run out of our offices in the Americas, in Europe and in Asia. It’s important that we continually reinforce our commitment to the wider HSS disciplines, but that we also build on our core strengths - from our leading and diverse Education program, to our portfolios covering Economics, Business, Behavioral and Health Sciences, and our impressive Philosophy and Ethics list.

Launching new journals is hard work– it requires a developed idea (proposal), a sustainable research presence, a significant pipeline of new submissions and content, and the ability to attract and build new audiences. We already do a lot of this work to advance and develop our existing journals, and while we will continue to launch new journals, this will be selective as our priority for now is strengthening what we already have - which is a large body of trusted and influential work.

This year, we’ve been reviewing our existing portfolio with fresh eyes and identifying which titles have the greatest potential for growth and impact. It’s important that our existing journals continue to adapt to changing research and publishing environments, and where valid new opportunities arise, that we seize them.

We also need to think carefully about how we resource journals as they expand to cover new areas, and ensure we have the right expertise in our editorial structures to best serve and engage the wider research community. Attracting new work and publishing special issues is already an important aspect of our editorial strategy.”

How important is Open Access to Springer Nature’s HSS Portfolio?

“Approximately 7% of our HSS journal portfolio is pure Open Access, and a large majority of our titles are hybrid. With its growing importance to researchers, it’s vital that as a publisher we respond to demand for OA publications. But developments such as Plan S also present fundamental challenges to the HSS community because the current lack of available funding across much of our space doesn’t allow for easy payment of APCs.

That said, there are several areas in the HSS portfolio where we’ve been able to make good progress with Open Access. Today, we have almost 50 pure OA titles that are publishing valuable work. And within our hybrid environment, some of our journals are seeing reasonable uptake of the open access option. The hybrid model is very important for us, and we believe it represents the best way forward for HSS subjects. One of our broad-based OA journals is Palgrave Communications, which we have plans to grow. Its remit is large – the entire HSS domain!

What’s unique about the Springer Nature HSS portfolio?

“We use similar services and publish in similar ways to a number of our competitors, but one of our main differentiators is putting the author at the center of what we do by providing a best-in-class author service. There are aspects of this service that are unique – including SharedIt - which lets authors share a unique link of an article they’ve published with Springer Nature, enabling the recipient to access the full text of the paper online. The innovations we’re making with our new Peer Review System - and indeed our review of the entire Submit to Accept Workflow - along with our title development planning, are fundamental to our aspiration to be best in class.


Of course equally important are our readers and the libraries providing content access to the research community. ‘HSS’ as a term encompasses an incredibly wide range of subject matter, disciplines and communities, and as one of the largest publishers of HSS content, our goal is to provide rich diversity within our collections. Our collection spans the entire breadth of HSS disciplines, so with increasing importance placed on inter-disciplinary and multi-disciplinary research, we are very well placed to help academics and practitioners.

Looking to the future

The editorial mission for Springer Nature’s Humanities and Social Sciences collection is to provide innovative content to researchers in academia and industry, whilst encouraging world-class authors in the field to return. Many of these authors publish across a broad range of subjects – including education, psychology, political science and economics – all of which are represented by the portfolio. It offers a diverse range of formats, not only to meet the varied needs of its readers but also to serve both established and new authors in the field.

The Nature Research portfolio plays an important role in providing multidisciplinary journals that serve many research communities, within the same pages, to support research outputs that are richer and more impactful. Springer Nature will continue to grow its thematic journals to bring together researchers and practitioners from across the natural and social sciences around specific topics of broad societal relevance. At the same time, its eBooks program will remain focused on building on its core foundations in the form of handbooks and Major Reference Works, and continue to combine the complementary strengths of the Palgrave and Springer imprints to provide the highest quality of social sciences research.  

This article was written by Emma Warren-Jones, Director of Edible Content, from an interview with David Bull this year.

Sacha Billet

Author: Sacha Billett

Sacha Billett is a Content Marketing Manager in the Institutional Marketing team, based in the Dordrecht office. Supporting the Sales and Account Development teams, she is enthusiastic about finding innovate ways to communicate with the library community.

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